Women in Translation Month
By Hayley Cadel, Mary Karayel and Yashika M.
This month is Women in Translation Month, which is celebrated globally. It’s an occasion to acknowledge translators, women authors and their literature. The commemoration is born out of the lack of awareness of women in translation, with less than 31% of translations into English being written by women. With literature discussing themes like the history of literature, femininity and its association with historic and modern art, family values, and representation of the marginalised and unrecognised communities in society have been outstanding steps towards creating a change in how widely this literature is now read. Latest releases such as Selva Almada’s The Wind That Lays Waste (translated by Chris Andrews) and Ibtisam Azem’s The Book of Disappearance (translated by Sinan Antoon) have garnered tremendous response with readers of today who resonate with the feminine nature and themes of the books.
The Women in Translation project was set up due to the gender disparity in non-English literature, with the focus of the project on literature written by women in any language other than English. It chose not to focus on specific genres, allowing the project to be a gateway for all readers to access translated women’s work. It not only highlighted the lack of women translated into English, but recognised that only 36% of books translated into English were from non-European countries. In 2014, the Women in Translation Month was created by Meytal Radzinski and has since become a staple in the literary calendar. Every year, readers across the world read and review women in translation, not only helping to promote these books but the project and translated authors more widely.
As outlined, this month has the ability to create a spike in interest in translation literature but this can also generate interest in backlist titles through the desire to find more and more titles – this is often encouraged by platforms such as BookTok and Bookstagram. Recently, there has been renewed interest in Breast and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami (translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd). Published in 2008, Breast and Eggs portrays working class womanhood in Japan through the stories of three women. Another popular translated work is I Who Have Never Known Men by Jacqueline Harpman (translated by Ros Schwartz), which is reminiscent of The Handmaid's Tale. In this novel, thirty-nine women are kept underground, in isolation, with no memory of how they got there when a prisoner emerges and offers escape and survival to the women. And finally, The Vegetarian by Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith), originally published in 2015, the novel tells of a woman who gradually, but mysteriously stops eating, and the trauma which accompanies this unravels.
However, it is not just individual books which are bringing women in translation to the market, it is also independent publishing houses who have been set up with this sole aim. One publisher, Tilted Axis Press, was set up in 2015 in response to the lack of translated Asian authors on UK bookshelves and set about redressing the balance. With their book covers, each book fits into the brand with a tilted axis on the cover, making these books instantly recognisable and serving as a clear signpost to the reader. Aside from this, they are also dedicated to improving access into the industry. Additionally, Charco Press was set up with the intention of bringing the best of Latin American fiction to the UK. As well as translations, they sell copies of books in their original languages. Again pairing this with distinctive branding which sets them apart on the shelf.
Women in Translation Month is all about appreciating the great women writers who do get translated – and of course, the people who make these stories accessible: the translators. Here are a few more recommendations to get you through the rest of the year so that we don’t just consume this literature once a year, but enjoy it all year round.
Last week, Mauritian writer Ananda Devi’s autobiographical poetry collection was released, exploring universal themes of loneliness, desire and memory. The collection, originally written in French, was translated by Kazim Ali, who is a translator, author and poet. If you prefer fiction, why not try Witches by Brenda Lozano (and translated by Heather Cleary)? Witches tells the story of Feliciana, an indigenous curandera, or healer, and Zoe, a journalist. These two women meet through the murder of Feliciana's cousin Paloma, and they uncover parallels between each other’s lives despite being brought up so differently. Parallels is a really important word when thinking about translated fiction and how we can relate to it despite it being more difficult to access without translation. This shows the importance of having a month dedicated to women in translation, and we hope we’ve inspired you to try some translated fiction this summer.